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Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Truckers: Then and Now

By William Weatherstone of The Diesel Gypsy

A HUMOROUS but factual account of the way it was/is. (A COMPARISON)

Where shall I begin with this comparison? I have just come across an ad directed at truckers of this 21st century, and it floored me (knocked me off my crutches so to speak). It was all about satellite TV, laptop computers and all the accessories that go with them so as a driver does not have to leave his seat, eliminating any chance of physical activity.

Perhaps I should start at the beginning and explain who I am and what gets me cranked up about this generation of new truckers, not getting any healthy exercise and at the same time having them dole out their money to industry.

#1 - I am William (Diesel Gypsy) Weatherstone, and have been trucking for 50 years legally and a couple more years illegally (early start). The actual time started in the year of 1949. That's when the illegal portion started. (It's called the olden days to the newest generation.)

#2 - Just a little note on experience: I am a Canadian trucker who has hauled almost everything that can be set on wheels. I have trucked from the Northern Territories of Canada down to the (one trip) into Northern Mexico in the 1950s. All states in the USA from the Pacific to the Atlantic have been visited, with the one exception, Hawaii. The truck would not stay afloat long enough to make the trip. All of the provinces of Canada including the Territories were covered except Nunavut.

NOTE: There are no direct roads to this newly created Territory, formally part of the Northwest Territories, Canada. (It came into being after my time.) I even ran a couple emergency trips into Labrador before the road was there. But that is another story.

So now that I have introduced myself, let's get down to comparisons.

I am really stumped at where to start, so I'll take pot luck and go with the weather forecasting systems, starting with today's availability.

Truckers today really have it tough. While relaxing in an environmentally controlled area and watching the weather channel on satellite TV, they are advised that the wind will blow in from the north, making the temperatures much cooler. (So bundle up) That's today's version.

The 1940/50's version is not so dramatic or complicated. (Directions are simple, please follow.)
First stick any one of your digits in your mouth and liquefy it completely, withdraw digit (finger in case you don't know) and hold it upright above your head and you should feel one side getting a dramatic temperature drop. (Colder) If it is colder on the north side of your finger, the wind will be coming from the north. You don't really need a billion dollar satellite to figure that one out. (Unless perhaps, you are a politician, or don't know which way is north.)

Next subject: How do you get there?

Now that we have figured out which way the wind is blowing, which way do we go? Do you know? Here's how it is done today:

First we must have access to the BILLION $ satellite system by acquiring a multi-hundred or -thousand dollar computer, such as a GPS system. This expensive little gadget will (in theory) point you in the direction from where you are to where you eventually want to be, all happening without the driver getting up off his butt.

The THEN version is not quite so expensive or complicated. Stop at any gas station and acquire a FREE map. You then open it up and follow the numbered line from where you are to where you want to be. It was all FREE.
A couple extra benefits that came with it were: #1 A chance to socialize with the garage attendant (shoot the breeze for a while, and get up to the minute road info). #2 You get a trip directional device that works even without a battery, a failsafe instrument called a road map. (When the modern satellite system/GPS has a dead battery, you are stuck out in nowhere with your finger up your butt [again] wondering WHERE AM I NOW?) The road map is always functional, and FREE.

There is today's most essential devise that no trucker in his right mind can survive so much as a trip across a Wal Mart parking lot without. The notorious CB RADIO.

You just have to have one or you are not with it. You might miss a bit of the swearing and BS of other frustrated truckers venting their dislikes of the government, the industry, and with all other drivers who do not conform to their ignorance. Especially when the skip (radio waves bouncing around because of sun spot activity) is rolling in and you can hear the profanity going on 2,000 miles away, but can't hear your buddy one-quarter mile ahead of you, mainly because some jackass 2,000 miles away is pumping out 1,000-plus watts of profanity with a boot (linear amplifier). For this privilege you are spending hundreds of dollars on radio equipment to participate.

The THEN version is not at all as expensive. (FREE) In the days of old, truckers used hand signals as well as their truck lights (headlights or clearance lights) to communicate essential info to one or another, such as help passing, by flashing headlights to clear your front end, hand signals to pour the coal to it, (no cops, all clear). Hand signal for scale shack open or closed. Plus there are too many others to mention here.

There was no skip to interfere with your communication, no cops could listen in on your silent hand evasion signals (such as they do with radio). No listening to all the gripping of frustrated truckers and much more. All this and not one penny invested, it was all FREE.

Now there is a new gadget that is a must to survive in the industry, it's called a LAPTOP COMPUTER, and is a hundreds of dollars investment, not counting all the necessary accessories that go with it.

There is the floor mount stand that will hold your laptop beside you so you don't have to leave your seat. Then there is another mount that will hold your printer, etc., etc., all adding up to hundreds of dollars extra. All of this is dependent on a power battery supply. One dead battery and you are up the proverbial creek without a paddle. (Again)

The THEN version is called a pencil. What can I say - batteries not required. (FREE) Oh sorry – five cents for the pencil, the olden day's version of the PC.

There are many, many more things for comparison, too many to mention here, except for possibly one more, Movie entertainment.

Now one must have a TV in his truck along with a satellite dish at great expense, hundreds of dollars again. Not mentioning satellite usage fees, or rental CDs. Again it all depends on your battery condition whether you get the full use of your investment.

The THEN version, when we had the time, would park outside a drive-in movie sitting high enough in the cab to see and hear over the fence. The cost in equipment investment, FREE. (Bring your own beer and popcorn.)

There is one item that is more complete today than in the past, and that is the invaluable TRUCK STOP DIRECTORY, especially for the long haul gypsy type trucking. It's a map book and in this case is not usually FREE, but I consider a necessary investment. You can find and judge the time and distance to a truck stop, for food, rest, and if necessary, vehicle service, a plus in this day and age.

In the meantime you NOW or THEN TRUCKERS, take care, drive safe.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: The story cupboard is nearly bare. Time for any readers inclined to share yours to send them along.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


You missed your calling,William, because you could have made a fortune writing humorous books. I haven't laughed so hard in ages. Thank you for a great way to start my day. I really cracked up when I read your comment on how to find out which way the wind was blowing THEN. ( --- especially if you were a politician. On second thought, that's the only thing they know.)

I would add this to your THEN and NOW version. THEN you made a phone call using an operator and talked to a real person to vent your complaints. NOW you are on hold forever and after twenty minutes of listening to elevator music you are told to call back because the computers are down.

In many ways I'll take the THEN version and skip NOW. Only one problem; THEN I wouldn't have been able to laugh at your story.


That was the most clever piece I have read in a long time.

One thing you said reminded me of a drive in movie that was at the very end of Route 13 in Eddystone, PA..
Now Route 13 runs for hundreds of miles through Virginia, Maryland Delaware,and into Pennsylvania. THEN, you went around a long, sharp, badly banked curve and the sign LOOMED "END ROUTE 13" .The road ended about 50 yards later at a red light at Chester Pike. What a jolt!

But that was only part of the danger to truckers. The other part was the drive-in movie at the very beginning of that death defying curve. They were the first to play XXXXX Rated films.

So, truckers would be speeding up to the curve with no idea in the world that the road was about to end and the last thing they saw as they entered the curve was a GIANT pair of breasts or some other part of the female anatomy on a screen that was about 50'wide and 36'high.

Trucks littered the shoulders of that road every night. They would crash into each other with regularity. The tow truck business was the main source of income in that community.

The drive in only lasted about 6 months because the local police shut them down, calling the drive in a dangerous nuisance......

Your story brought this all back to me and I hope you write more tales of your adventures in Over the Road Trucking.

Great story…I’ll be forwarding this along to some of the “then” truckers I know…

I’ve never been a trucker but…
1) NOW—most gas station attendants don’t understand me, and I don’t understand them. Therefore, they cannot help someone who turned left, but should have turned right.
THEN—Gas station attendants were strongly relied on to be familiar with the general area and always happy to point a lost soul in the right direction.
2) NOW—When I’m with a friend and wondering which direction to take, I hear “you need a GPS.” (Grrrr!!)
THEN—The brain was put into high gear and forced to think. And, if it did not do its job correctly, there was always an opportunity to see places you’ve not seen before or have fun laughing at yourself or with friends who don’t yet have a GPS.

As you might have guessed, I have a terrible sense of direction. But, so far, I’ve gotten to every place I’ve wanted to go. Will I ever get a GPS? The years have taught me never to say never.

Loved this piece! My dad was a trucker his entire life. He passsed away 2 years ago. I was a "daddy's girl" and this piece brought him back to me once again....thank you. He would have loved to sit and gab with you.

Back in the early 70's I was driving from Chicago to Florida for a summer job. 28 years old, alone in my convertible, flying along to my big adventure. The truckers along the way took care of me with those hand signals you mentioned, those flashing lights and even riding in the cradle...great time!

Thank you for the trip down memory
lane.Back in the mid 50's my parents
ran Speaks Truck Stop on U S 22 east
of Lancaster, Ohio.( Sinclair Gas)
I could tell you a hundred stories. What a blessing it is now to have
had the experience of the "then".
I was a teen and cars & trucks were
my whole life.(before girls) anyway,
back then the new cars always came
out around Sept. or Oct. The haulers, TransAmerican was the big
one then, could only haul four
vehicles at a time as compared to
todays ten. I was working at the
truck stop one day and one of the
TransAmerican drivers asked me if
I would like to see a new "55"
Chevy before they came out at the
dealers. He pulled off the cover
and WOW!! It was better than
Christmas to a teenaged boy.
sincerely, Tom Speaks

Thanks Bill a great laugh been there done that, took me back in time again. Put that story on your site somewhere it deserves a place in transport history.

I turned down a load to Hawaii once because I didn't have enough fuel to make the trip and learned there were no fuel stops on the bottom of the ocean.

Great stories and I can relate to quite a few of them.
Years and years ago, I was in the Girl's Truckstop, just South of Gravenhurst, Ontario, when a young driver with a nice shiny new tractor pulled in. He was sitting at the counter bragging just how much the tractor cost, how fast it'd go along with all the other pluses, when this older driver, from the same company,(I guess he was tired of listening to him bragging so much), came up to him, tapped him on the shoulder, and said, "Sonny, you might get to the destination 10-15 minutes ahead of me, BUT, my truck's paid for!!" The kid never even finished his meal...just got up and left. I laughed so hard I thought I'd pee my pants. But what a true statement to come out with!!
Keep up the good work, Bill. We all look forward to the continuing tales.

Respectfully, Brian & Lorraine

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